Racing ‘has more to do if it is to avoid having change forced upon it’

Paris panellists: Victoria Carter, deputy chairman of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, presenter Rishi Persad and former champion French trainer Criquette Head-Maarek taking part in the IFHA conference. Photo: Scoop Dyga

Horse welfare and public perception took centerstage during the 53rd International Conference of Horseracing Authorities today in Paris on Monday

The first Conference  was organized and hosted by the Société d'Encouragement in Paris on October 9, 1967. Since 1994, the annual conference has been organized by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) at France Galop.

The first meeting had 14 attendees from nine countries. This week's convened delegates from more than 50 countries, with a number of other racing executives and media members in attendance.

“The difficulties each of us face to properly regulate our sport perhaps have never been greater,” said IFHA Chairman Louis Romanet. “Threats to the integrity of competition, rightful concerns on equine welfare, and an evolving public perception and social acceptance of horse racing are among the key challenges to operate and grow our global industry. A positive element when considering any of these problems is that an international body such as the IFHA exists and is capable of addressing these issues.”

    The Conference’s keynote address was delivered by Tracey Crouch, UK MP for Chatham and Aylesford as well as UK Sports Minister from 2015 to 2018. Due to British parliamentary business, her speech was given via video.

    “In many countries, horseracing has a social licence to operate,” she said. “This is commonly understood to mean acceptance of industry practices and procedures by the general public. That licence is granted in return for horseracing understanding - and demonstrating - its duty of care for the horses it breeds and races. If horseracing fails in this, that licence can easily be revoked.”

    Crouch went on to explain that racing needs to better communicate what it does to ensure high standards of horse welfare; be prepared to counter emotional challenges presented by opponents with clear evidence of investment in equine welfare and successful outcomes; and be prepared to challenge attitudes within the sport and see things from a wider perspective.

    “It is only right that outside, and challenging, voices contribute to improving welfare,” she said. “You either have informed debate in racing, leading to proactive and reasonable change or have change forced upon you by policymakers, distant from the intricate detail of the industry but reactionary to public opinion.

    Turning point

    “This is a turning point for the industry. It is time to embrace the welfare agenda otherwise a generation of racegoers will be lost and an industry susceptible to decline. Much good has already been done but there is more to do.”

    Following Crouch’s speech, Nick Rust, CEO of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), led a session on how equine welfare has changed in the past two decades. Those taking part included: Dr Rick Arthur, the equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board; Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer; Dr Paul-Marie Gadot, France Galop’s head of the horses and control department as well as IFHA’s technical advisor; and Dr. Brian Stewart, the head of veterinary regulation, welfare, and biosecurity policy for the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC).

    The next panel featured Richard Hytner, the founder of management consultancy beta baboon, who examined perspectives on the current consumer and political environment before moderating a panel featuring retired French trainer Criquette Head, media presenter Rishi Persad, and Victoria Carter, who is the deputy chairman of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing.

    Hytner then led another panel examining how horseracing jurisdictions can meet current challenges and ways the IFHA should be involved. The panel included: Greg Nichols, the chairman of Racing Australia; Craig Fravel, the outgoing president and CEO of Breeders’ Cup Ltd.; and Andrew Harding, the executive director of the IFHA and executive director of racing for the HKJC.

      Earlier in the day, Jim Gagliano, the president and chief operating officer of the U.S.Jockey Club, as well as one of the co-chairmen of the IFHA, introduced the main morning session, which focused on international racing. 

      “We are here today specifically because horse racing is an international sport,” he said. “Every year at this conference I am amazed and excited to see the numerous countries that are represented and to know that we are all working toward a common goal: to improve horse racing worldwide,” Gagliano said.

      Persad then moderated a panel that included trainer John Gosden (by pre-recorded interview), Japanese assistant trainer Yoshitake Hashida, Head, and Ezequiel Valle, a director for the Argentinian farm Haras Firmamento.

      Following that discussion, Ken Truter, the chairman for the National Horseracing Authority of Southern Africa, showcased the planned 38th Asian Racing Conference, which will be held in Cape Town in February. Additionally, there was a presentation on the inaugural Saudi Cup, to be staged on February 29.

      A replay of the live video stream and presentations will be available on the IFHA website.

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